The New Cubans

Jean-François Bouchard
Interview with Matthew Leifheit
Text by Jorge Peré and Devon Ruiz

$ 50

Hardcover with Foil
Trim Size: 10 x 13.2, French Edition Coming Soon
Page Count: 256
ISBN: 9781648230882

Jean-François Bouchard’s cinematic photography illuminates the previously underreported culture of contemporary Cuba, revealing a polymorphic, intimate community in which personal expression and gender diversity are vivaciously celebrated. Preconceptions of communist social uniformity and Cold War-era clichés are cleverly subverted in this ambitious photographic journey that reveals the emerging subcultures in Havana. Texts include an interview with renowned photographer and former Vice photo director Matthew Leifheit and an essay by Cuban art critic Jorge Peré. The New Cubans showcases a Cuba few outsiders have seen or possibly even know exists.

Over recent years, an imperfect storm of global and local circumstances has reinvigorated Cuba’s creative and alternative subcultures like never before. Largely driven by the recent widespread Internet access and the relaxation of the embargo during the Obama administration, the younger generation has increasingly embraced global influences, while suffering from the dire economic context on the island. Due to Cuba’s strict COVID-19 lockdowns and renewed U.S. sanctions, few overseas visitors have witnessed this vibrant new reality.

Within days of the Cuban government relaxing travel restrictions in 2021, JF Bouchard began two years of frequent visits, fifteen trips in total, to the island to document an unprecedented explosion of expression that has been incubating over the past decade, largely unseen by the wider world. Through his main collaborators, Devon Ruiz and Osmel Azcuy, he gained access to various local youth communities including punk bands, drag queens, and BDSM enthusiasts.

The younger generation of Cubans, The New Cubans, in the photographer’s view, are nothing like their elders. With limited means and constant daily aggravations they somehow find ways to make their lives a kaleidoscope of culture, creativity, and even festivities. Various subcultures thrive and gender-diversity has blossomed over recent years. The very existence of these subcultures surprises many foreigners who have a “communist Cold War-era” perception of Cuban society as frozen in a monolithic mandated social uniformity. This is simply not true.

But Cuba also faces the largest migration crisis in its existence. In the past few years alone, hundreds of thousands of Cubans have left the country, many of them younger people. Many of the author’s subjects have since fled the island or intend to, making his photographs vestiges of rapidly vanishing social circles and moments in Cuban history.

Comprising more than 150 intimate, revealing photographs over 256 pages, The New Cubans is augmented with profiles of the fascinating individuals who welcomed Bouchard into their world. The book also features an interview with NYC-based photographer Matthew Leifhei and an essay by Cuban-based art critic Jorge Peré. Devon Ruiz, the photographer’s close collaborator who’s a vivacious star in the nightlife and art scenes in Havana, contributes heartfelt text. 

The book’s ultimate aim is to celebrate the lesser-known but vibrant Cuban inclusiveness, gender-diversity openness, and the lifestyles of the younger, connected Cubans who will shape the future of the island or leave it behind in search of new possibilities. 

Jean-François Bouchard is an award-winning visual artist whose photographic work has been exhibited in Montreal, New York, Toronto, Miami, and Paris. His images have featured in the Washington Post, Stern Magazine, The British Journal of Photography, Wired Magazine and many other publications. Bouchard’s immersive, emotive work channels his fascination for colorful outliers existing on the twilight fringes of mainstream society, creating revelatory narratives on obscured, often misunderstood subcultures. 

Matthew Leifheit is an American photographer, magazine editor, and professor. A graduate of Rhode Island School of Design and the Yale School of Art, Leifheit is Editor-in-Chief of MATTE Magazine, the journal of emerging photography he has edited and published since 2010. Leifheit was formerly photo director of VICE Magazine and his photographs have appeared in publications such as The New York Times, The New Yorker, Aperture, Time, and Artforum. Leifheit’s photographic work has been exhibited internationally and is held in public collections. He is currently on faculty at Pratt Institute and Yale University.

Jorge Peré is a Bachelor of Art History from the Faculty of Arts and Letters at the University of Havana. He is an art critic, curator, essayist, and independent editor who earned mention in the National Art Criticism Award Guy Pérez Cisneros 2022. Peré is also the founder and editor of the independent editorial project El Oficio and assistant curator of prominent Havana galleries including Galería Taller Gorría, El Apartamento, and La Nave. 

Devon Ruiz is a model, event organizer, photographer, fashion designer, and occasional painter. A versatile creative recognized as a vivacious star of Havana nightlife, she co-founded a fashion brand that reflects her colorful aesthetic and renowned energy. Devon’s shaved head is distinctively adorned with around twenty tattoos, each representing an aspect of her life. Although born in Holguín in eastern Cuba, both of her parents now live in the U.S. Known for her larger-than-life personality and a remarkable talent for finding happiness, Devon says that her dream is to travel between Cuba and other countries around the world. She has a weak spot for Amsterdam, where she hopes to further her artistic pursuits and make new connections. Devon was essential in the making of The New Cubans. She is JF Bouchard’s close friend and his liaison to the young Cuban art and underground scene.